Way back in November, we cooked a Thanksgiving meal, not for crowds of people, as we had the year before, but just for each other. It was a chance to try out some ambitious recipes and to please just ourselves. I had at first said, “no poultry,” but a trip to Whole Foods revealed some never-before-seen exotica that ended up as the basis for our meal.
There, in a freezer on the shelf nearest the floor, a place I admit I never look, we saw guinea hens. And marrow bones. And so the menu started to form in our minds. Neither of us had ever cooked a guinea hen—and we hadn’t eaten one, either. Same with the marrow bones, although we had tasted them before. So the marrow bones for the starter, the guinea hen for the main course, and we needed a side dish. No traditional Thanksgiving green beans or squash—we decided to make saag paneer, including the cheese. I am wild for cheese, and even took a course at the Boston University School of Culinary Arts, where I earned a certificate in cheese, which makes me a dairy queen, or a cheese whiz. I’d never made cheese before—it turned out to be easy, fun, and yummy.
The plan for the day, as much as there was a plan at all, was to take it very slowly, to start whenever we felt like it, and to eat whenever food was ready.
Maybe some other time I’ll write about the recipes. What was remarkable about the day wasn’t the food, which was glorious, but the conversation. It’s rare to have an entire day that can unspool at its own pace, where there isn’t a deadline or urgent errand or sense of a ticking clock and other things that must be dealt with. Even though we share a house and a kitchen, our time together is usually short and silly and then we ricochet off into our separate lives.
For the marrow bones, we chose Anthony Bourdain’s recipe from the book/web site My Last Supper. Roasted marrow bones—his choice for a last meal. At some point after we’d prepared and eaten the marrow bones and were hanging out (actually, lying down on the living room couches) while the guinea hens cooked, I asked Chip, “If you knew you were having your last meal, would you use?” His answer came fast and clear—no, he would want to be entirely present for his end.
Over the next few days, I asked this question of a few of my other friends in recovery. Pretty much everyone came to the same answer, although a few people admitted to being tempted. One friend with 28 years clean wants his clean time on his headstone, and that goal would keep him from using. Others said they had lost any cravings or desire to use.
I like to believe I would face my end with grace and presence…but I can’t be sure. I’m enough of a foodie to think that maybe it would be nice to have a glass of wine or two with my last meal…but when I think it through, I realize I’ve lost my taste for wine. Would I take something to relieve fear and anxiety? I don’t know. I hope not. Being alive, fully alive, until the moment I’m not, seems like a good death. On the other hand, I was very happy to get the epidural during childbirth…so who knows? My tolerance for physical pain is pretty high—less so for emotional pain. And after decades of reaching for a pill or a drink to get me away from emotional pain—I just don’t know how much courage or faith I’ll have, when faced with death.
Oh—what would be on my last meal menu? I don’t know exactly, but I think there would be ripe peaches and figs, rich dark chocolate, and sushi prepared by a master. Not in that order.